Dungeon Encounters and STO

Somehow another week has slipped past without a blog post. Time flies, except when it doesn’t. Every work day seems to take an age to pass, but then suddenly it is Monday again. Next Monday is November 1st!

In days of yore this time of year would be the height of new game mania for me, but this year I’m not feeling it very much. Oh I’ll play Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite since they’re both on Game Pass but when it comes to shelling out cash I’ve become quite conservative. I have SO many games I haven’t played that it seems crazy to buy new ones.

Or at least that’s how I was feeling until Dungeon Encounters appeared out of nowhere and I had to buy it. In my defense, it was less than $25 and it was just so different from anything else I owned. Anything else remotely modern, anyway. It’s been a while since I played a game where I needed to take notes in order to remember where things are! I’ve been enjoying it. Maybe not as much as Tipa has (she’s already finished it!) but enough that it has pulled me away from most other games.

One thing holding me back is, well, my back. I’ve been having some terrible spasms in my back and it has made sitting in one place for a long time quite painful. So I tend to move from place to place. Gaming is particularly bad because once I get immersed in a game I start to slouch and that really aggravates my back. So I’ve been spending a lot of time watching TV while perched very upright on the front edge of the couch.

Alternatively I sit at my PC, where sadly I have a pretty shit chair, but it is so shit that it requires me to stay more or less upright, lest it (and me) topple to the ground. On the PC I’ve finally gone back to Star Trek Online. That only took a month to get around to. In September I shared a post from Roger Edwards about playing the STO story arcs in order. I’ve learned that Cryptic has put some obstacles up to prevent us from doing that. Some of the “Side Quests” that Roger suggests we play are now locked behind a level gate which is FAR above my level (I’m 10 and you have to be 55 or 65 to do these quests, according to reddit.)

Despite that snafu I’m enjoying STO quite a bit. We’re in the thick of a surge in Star Trek fandom here at Chez Dragonchasers. We’ve been re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve been re-watching TOS, and soon the new animated YA show starts up (with Lower Decks just recently ending for the season). So STO slots in very nicely, and the episodic nature means I can log in, play through an episode and then log out to give my back a rest.

I still mean to/want to play both New World and Black Desert Online, I just keep running out of time in the day before I get to them. I think for New World I have the opposite of FOMO. So many of the people who were hyped about it now seem disappointed in it so I wonder what’s the point of dumping a bunch of hours into it just so I can reach their level of disappointment. May as well take it slow and easy and see what new features/changes Amazon makes to bring folks back.

Meanwhile over in BDO I think I need to create a non-Seasonal alt. My seasonal character levels so fast that all the content she has to do is trivial (in terms of her main questline) and I think I’d rather level at a slower pace and have more time to absorb all the skills and systems. There’s absolutely nothing preventing me from rolling an alt other than choice paralysis because so many of the classes seem really interesting. I just need to set aside some time to do it. I think the Season system is awesome for established players but for this particular first-timer, slower might be better.

Finished Far Cry New Dawn

Well I finally got around to finishing the main story of Far Cry New Dawn. I’ve been picking and poking at this game for months, if not years, but with Far Cry 6 out I figured it was time to finish New Dawn. Not that there’s any continuity between major Far Cry installments; I did it mostly so I could say I did and it always feels better finishing an old game before I buy a new game.

Overall I felt like Far Cry New Dawn was OK. Like a 3 out of 5 game. Glad I finished, won’t stick around to farm achievements. That kind of game.

So what was wrong with it? The pacing felt odd. There was so much random stuff happening that when you wanted to do a specific quest it could be hard to do so since random encounters would keep popping up which would in turn lead you to use up all your ammo before you got to the location of the quest. It was also the kind of game that is like 90% about shooting stuff but they add a melee system and a driving system into it, then they make main story quests that force you to do melee and driving. But to be fair that’s typical Far Cry stuff. Lastly for some reason whenever you opened a crafting station or a store there was a long load screen where it felt like the game was phoning home for some reason; probably something to do with microtransactions. That got old real fast and remained a major headache throughout the game.

Those are pretty minor gripes, really, but the problem is with my “what’s good about it” list. There’s really nothing on it. It was fine. The story wasn’t super compelling, the characters were mostly tropes. Joseph Seed returns and he is as delightfully wacko as he was in Far Cry 5, but beyond him… meh. A lot of the ‘guns for hire’ (NPC sidekicks) were annoying and at least one was really very offensive. Fortunately there are a few animal companions who of course don’t talk and I mostly stuck with them. The shooting was fine but nothing remarkable. Further on into the game you get some quasi-magical powers and they felt super clumsy to me; I barely used them.

I finished with 29/50 Achievements (with a couple more very close to popping). My overall settlement level was maxed out (at 3) but of the various settlement facilities you can improve, only the weapon bench was maxed, and I created exactly 1 top-tier weapon before I beat the game. The image at the top of the post shows the final gear I beat the last couple bosses with (the top weapon, with the golden crown logo, is essentially level IV, the max level), and the image to the right shows my facility levels.

I guess there is overhead here (in terms of unlocks) for folks who play on harder difficulty levels. I could of course keep playing but I don’t see much reason to do so. There aren’t any interesting side quests left over, or even many places to explore. And there are so many games waiting to be played.

Overall, I’d say if you skip Far Cry New Dawn, you won’t be missing much. On the other hand if someone gifts you a copy or something, you’ll probably have some fun with it for a bit. There is no big amazing story hook at the end to make it worth continuing to play once you get bored with it, though.

PC Gaming is Hard (For Me)

As I’m sure I’ve said many times on this blog, I have primarily been a console gamer for a number of years. That changed a bit lately with the launch of Amazon’s New World and my out-of-the-blue obsession with Black Desert Online (which I STILL haven’t blogged about, have I?) Suddenly I was back to sitting hunched over a desk, my face awash in the blue glow of a monitor, merrily pounding keys.

Was back. Now I’m not sure. I’m actually finding PC gaming difficult. In fact for the past few nights I’ve sat down to boot one of my two current obsessions, stared at the monitor, squirmed in my chair a bit, then I’ve gotten up and went to the couch and watched TV. I didn’t want to disrupt my gaming focus by starting a console game, but I just didn’t want to sit in that chair for another minute, either. It just made me feel mentally exhausted to be sitting there, plus there’s the little nagging tickle in my brain that maybe I should be doing some work instead, just to make the day job a little less stressful.

This is exactly how I got into console gaming in the first place. Once I started working from home full time I found that 8-9 hours at a PC was plenty and I didn’t really want to sit there for another few hours at night even if it was to play games. It’s weird because the same was true when I was going into the office, but somehow the change of location made it feel different. Plus I didn’t have all my work crap on my gaming PC. I don’t now either but I DO have Parsec and can connect to the work machine in an instant.

There’s a physical toll as well. I guess I really hyper-focus while at a PC and after a couple hours playing an MMO, when I finally get up there are so many pops and cracks in my back and neck that I sound like a string of firecrackers going off. My neck and shoulders get sore, though usually everything loosens up after a bit. No lasting damage done.

So I dunno what to do. All day while I’m working I think about how I want to play New World and BDO, but then when I CAN play I just want to be somewhere else. BDO is actually available on console but it seems to lag behind the PC version in a lot of ways, and of course New World is PC only. (Isn’t it strange that we can’t play New World via Amazon Luna?)

Maybe I just need to reserve PC gaming for the weekends, and stick to consoles games during the week. Not sure. Also not sure the point of this post but it’s been a week since my last post so figured I’d better find SOMETHING to talk about!

New World: Finally Feeling Settled

I’ve had a rough time with New World. Not the actual playing of the game, but the issues that orbit the core gameplay.

First it was the queues. On Day 1 I created a character on Minda to play with Belghast’s Greysky Expeditions Company. And, being me, I created a 2nd character on a different server because I know there WILL be times when I want to play in absolute solitude on a server where no one knows me.

The launch week queues on Minda & character #2’s server (not being coy, I literally forget what server it was) broke me though. I couldn’t take waiting hours to play any more.

Solution #1 was to create a character on NA West just to spend time with. So that was my 3rd character. Didn’t last very long since the lag difference was appreciable. Felt like dodging was a lot more iffy. That character still exists, gathering dust.

Solution #2: By the time I got to Solution #2 Amazon had rolled out a bunch of new servers on NA East that were empty(ish). I deleted my Minda character, created a new one (character #4) with the same name and look on a low pop server, and re-started. The idea was to level up on the new server until Amazon gave us server transfers, which they’d promised. Then I’d rejoin Bel & gang.

This new server never had a queue and at first I was having a great time. But then the community started getting super toxic. At least the Syndicate faction was super toxic and the worst players also ‘ruled’ the faction by dint of holding land. I mean there was other faction/Company drama (super high taxes set by bitter Governors) but the end result was I kept ‘moving’ towns to try to avoid the idiots. Eventually it started bothering me just to log in. But I still wanted to play.

I fired up character #2 and for some reason, just wasn’t feeling her. I often play female characters in MMOs but for some reason that felt off for me in New World. I think it was because I figured I might start actually interacting with others and didn’t want to deal with any confusion. That’s probably a really out-of-date attitude given I know many, many people who play a gender other than what they present in real life, but whatever. In the end I deleted her and started character #5 on yet another new, empty(ish) server.

And, though I’m worried I’m going to jinx it, I think I am FINALLY comfortable with queues, community and my character. Most of the big Companies on this server have non-offensive names and faction chat (I went Marauder this time) has been mostly inoffensive. I’m still sorting this character; I started him as a full dex built, using Spear and Rapier & wearing light armor. Not sure that is going to stick but since he is only level 14 I can respec for free.

My Minda-replacement character is still on the toxic server, waiting to be able to move. He is Hatchet/Hammer and with this new character I’m trying to resist replicating him but it’s hard. Hatchet is super fun.

But anyway the point is I now log in, putter around at my own pace, don’t get my blood pressure way up due to being around a bunch of asshats, and I’m finally really enjoying the whole vibe. But damn it took a while to get here!

Of course thanks to Stargrace’s posts about Black Desert Online, I am now torn between 2 MMOs, New World and BDO. When it rains, it pours! 2016’s Black Desert Online is now becoming a new obsession, but that story is for another post.

New World and the Goldilocks Problem

Last night, it being the start of a weekend, I did something drastic. I deleted my New World character that was on Minda where my friends were all trying to play. I just didn’t want to spend my weekend trying to manage a queue around chores and dog walking and such. Since Amazon has promised free server transfers, I’m gambling that I can play on another server for now, then transfer to Minda later.

[Since New World only allows one character per server I had to delete my existing character to free up room for my eventual transfer, plus I wanted the same name.]

In the course of one evening I almost caught up to the progress I’d made in the 3 prior evenings of combatting the queue in order to squeeze in an hour of playing before bedtime. So that’s the good news.

When looking for a new server to roll on, I sorted by queue size to find one with no queue, then I chose a server with Low population. Randomly picked Nolandia (NA East) and off I went. Overall the new server is pretty chill. I even have all the chats on because it is all relatively civil (there’s always the odd troll). Gameplay also felt more responsive but I’d had to reboot my machine earlier in the day so maybe that was just local. But suddenly I had no issues dodging out of the path of attacks and such; prior to last night it felt like my dodges didn’t register quickly enough to be super effective unless a mob had a slow tell, like gearing up for a charge attack (boars).

But there is always a downside. On this world NO territory has been taken by any of the factions. At first I didn’t care because that just felt like balance to me. But then I realized that, at least as far as I know, there’s no way to level up crafting stations unless a faction controls a town. So the entire world is stuck at level 2 crafting stations; we’re stuck in the iron age, literally.

Nolandia was add on Sept 29th and Amazon added even more servers to NA East on Friday which is puzzling. Why keep adding new servers if some of the servers you have are empty? Maybe they’re gearing up for server transfers. Or maybe it’s a publicity stunt to show they’re reacting while they figure out a real solution.

Anyway I’m interested to see what happens on Nolandia. When I was on last night there was no company with more than 5 members online. [I am a boob, I was looking at “# of Claims” not number of members.] There was some discussion in Faction chat of dissolving some of the companies and everyone joining into one large company so they can take a town. I don’t really understand how taking a town works, beyond being able to out and out buy one for I think 100,000 gold. I wonder if an alliance of several small companies could do it.

I’m not too concerned since I’m not thinking of this as my permanent home, but if you ARE looking for a server to call home for the long run, maybe look for one with Medium population. Too high and you’ll spend your gaming time waiting in a queue. Too low and there’s not enough warm bodies to support all the game’s systems, apparently.

[The image at the top of the post comes from New World Status. I don’t honestly know how accurate the site is (it isn’t affiliated with Amazon), but it is reporting that there are a total of 163 players on Nolandia! (Granted, it is early on a Saturday morning.)]

Obligatory New World Post

News Flash: New World launched! It has queues! You heard it here first!

What do you mean, you already knew that? Dammit now what can I say about this game…

I waffled on New World. I had a pre-order from years ago. I’d played in a few test phases, though only lightly. I liked it well enough but I was unsure about the emphasis on PvP and such. What finally decided me was hearing that a bunch of friends were joining a Company (what New World calls guilds) together. For once, I decided, let me be a joiner. I kept the pre-order, I joined the Discord, requested to be on the roster and started, in my glacially slow way, to get to know the members of this guild.

Well that crashed and burned. The leader of the company, who had been MIA when I first joined, turned out to be a raging asshole who encouraged toxic conversation in the Discord. I’m told that compared to, say, a WoW Raid Guild, it was very mild stuff, but compared to a baseline of human decency it was vile. So I quit before the game even launched. The irony is that, even though the company had their roster all set up, once launch came they threw that all away and folks who didn’t have the luxury of taking launch day off to play were told “Sorry, not sorry, no room for you.” [I still had eyes inside at this point.] So I wouldn’t have gotten in anyway. At least I had the satisfaction of saying “I QUIT!” and slamming the door.

I’m still super pissed at the way the leadership of this Company treated people, if you can’t tell. Anyway, moving on… [Until I started writing this post I didn’t realize how much anger I was still holding onto about this…I hate seeing people treat other people like shit.]

In the end, good old Belghast created a Company and welcomed all and that has worked out as well as can be hoped given technical issues. While the roster is full of names I know and folks I follow on Twitter, actually getting people in-game at the same time is a challenge given the queues I mentioned. I have to start trying to sign in before dinner if I want to play at 10, which doesn’t leave a lot of time before bed. Most everyone else in the Company is in the same boat: we are people with day jobs.

Again, you’ve heard all about the queues. People have started referring to the game as Queue World instead of New World. Clever. Accurate. Next week Amazon is supposed to start offering free server transfers which might help. There are plenty of servers, (added after launch day), that don’t have queues now. I finally rolled an alt on one just so I can get my New World fix when I don’t have a few hours to wait before I start playing.

Did I say “my New World fix”? Yeah I did. Thing is, when I do manage to get in-game I’m having a great time for reasons I find hard to quantify. I spend time gathering materials, processing them, then shoving ’em into my Storage Chest. I don’t know why this is fun; maybe because it makes numbers go up? Sometimes I fight things, and I really like the action-y combat system, though I think they are missing an opportunity by not having Perfect Block and Perfect Dodge buffs. I read every note and scrap of paper I find because I’m enjoying piecing together the mysteries of this island. I really dig the setting.

Scraps of lore are everywhere

My progress is slow… so slow. I just run around having fun. I open the “Faction” chat and listen to the PVPers plan their attacks and I find myself tempted to join them, not that I am high enough level for that.

Just writing about what I enjoy about New World is even putting ME to sleep. It doesn’t sound like much. Maybe it is a scarcity thing. I wonder, when we get to the point that I can just log in, will it still be fun? Or am I enjoying it because it feels almost like a privilege just to get in-game?

So, let’s talk about the cons beyond the queue thing.

Con #1: You can only have one character per server, and only 2 characters per data center. People will tell you “You don’t need alts because one character can do everything.” I’m not sure that is really true. If I put all my attribute points into Strength so I can tank, how am I going to be a good healer, too? To be good with a Life Staff you have to put your points into a different attribute. (Wisdom or something, I haven’t been paying attention.) Plus I am a weirdo who kind of role-plays and I like to have different characters with different attitudes.

Con #2: The world seems pretty small. Maybe I’m missing something but at level 12 I’ve explored, I’d guess, about 20% of the land mass (a BIG chunk of the landmass is listed as levels 1-25). It also feels pretty crowded, tho that may ease as people spread out in levels. Right now the population of a server is capped at 2000 players which seems really small (again I refer you to Belghast for his thoughts on this) but at the same time, the world feels kind of over-crowded to me. There’s a lot of competition for certain resources; basically anything other than wood. I’ve killed stuff with a ranged weapon and had people run up to skin it for its hide before I can get to it. Bastards!

So we’ll see. This is a beginning and I expect the game to grow/improve over time. I probably won’t play it for months and months, but given there is no subscription I can certainly envision revisiting the game frequently to see how things change. It seems like a game that’ll be easy to revisit since you don’t have 40 skills that you will have forgotten (you can have 3 skills per weapon slotted).

I’m glad I took the plunge and I’m interested to see where Amazon takes it from here.

Life (and Work) Keeps Happening

Despite appearances, I have NOT thrown in the towel on blogging. I just have had a load of work-shaped and work-adjacent-shaped bricks fall on my head lately.

I have a bunch of work projects heating up which have had me working in the evenings, and I have agreed to join another developer in building out a portfolio site we can both use, and that is eating even more time. End result, very little free time for gaming or blogging.

Last Sunday I broke down and bought Tales of Arise for the PS5 which seems like it will be very good if I ever find time to play it. It certainly is a pretty game. New World is launching Tuesday (I think) and I have it pre-ordered though, again, not sure when I will play it. I did spend an hour on Thursday downloading EVE Online to play through their new New Player Experience which wound up being fairly underwhelming. This morning I played come Control on the PS5 before I nodded off on the couch because I haven’t been sleeping much.

There ya go, one paragraph to describe a week’s worth of gaming. 🙁

But I’m not dead yet, and neither is the blog. So this is just a heartbeat post!

Re-Visiting Star Trek Online

Star Trek is to me what Star Wars is to a lot of the folks in my social-media circles: I grew up with Star Trek the way folks 10+ years younger than me grew up with Star Wars. In other words, there’s a special place in my heart for the IP. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Star Wars too!)

Star Trek is enjoying a resurgence of interest lately with new shows like Discovery, Picard, The Lower Decks and soon, Star Trek: Prodigy and Strange New Worlds. While all this is going on @partpurple and I have been been doing a re-watch of Next Generation. So I’ve had a lot of Star Trek in my brain lately but somehow I’d all but forgotten about Star Trek Online.

I’ve played STO in the past of course. I’ve found it a bit of a challenging game to love. I really enjoy the ship-to-ship combat, but the ground combat has always felt clunky to me. Staying with that theme, I find the ship models quite nice while the character models feel pretty dated. Then there are the free-to-play MMO trappings which means all kinds of esoteric systems designed around getting players to stick around and grind for items and hopefully spend some $$ in the cash shop. And of course, worst of all: other players. 🙂

But today Roger Edwards published a post on Playing the Story Arcs In Order and he got me intrigued. Before I knew it STO was installed and patched up and I was creating a new character.

Meet Cadet Jhemen, an Andorian from the 25th Century. During my last few tilts at STO I’ve created Original Series era characters but Roger’s post focuses on 25th Century characters so I went with that time period.

I chose not to skip the “tutorial” and I’m glad I did. I put tutorial in quotes because the tutorial these days is like a mini campaign. I don’t know how new this is but it is different from what I remember. This tutorial-campaign takes you from your graduation day at Star Fleet Academy right through a point where you’re commanding your own ship and along the way you pick up three Bridge Officers, upgrades for most of your ship’s systems and have the main gameplay systems explained to you. It took me over an hour to play through it and it was thoroughly enjoyable. (Story wise you do battle with two different enemy factions, both in space and on foot. The ground combat seems a little better than it used to be, but it still isn’t great IMO.) If I never launch the game again it was already worth the trouble of re-installing it.

Jhemen is a tactical officer. I don’t know if that matters but the 3 bridge officers that were assigned to her during the tutorial work well together. One has a skill that depletes enemy shields, another has a skill that enhances photon torpedoes. I quickly got into the habit of tearing down an enemy’s shields then launching a salvo of torpedoes. The third bridge officer can reinforce our shields, and Jhemen herself has Evasive Maneuvers which is a defense buff.

Now I’m ready to start the Klingon War story arc. My plan is to basically treat STO as a single player game. I set the chat to only show NPC dialog. I need to find a way to auto-deny Fleet (Guild) requests because I was getting spammed with those. My plan is to ignore the Duty Officer system, which I hate so much that every time in the past I’ve gotten to that point I’ve quit playing. (It just feels like a chore to constantly tend to them.) I’m hoping it can be safely ignored. I’m also going to ignore crafting which I’m only vaguely aware of in STO. I’m just there for the story this time, at least to get started. At this point in STO’s life there seems to be a LOT of story to experience.

I will have to figure out how to get better ships and remember how to level up Bridge Officers and stuff, but generally as much as possible I just want to fly around and pew-pew and experience the stories.

It’s nice to find a “new” game after bouncing off FFXIV. We’ll see if I stick to this one or now.

She’s not much, but she’s mine

Final Fantasy Fourteen Fail

Like that title? I’m still reading a bunch of Golden Age comics so alliteration is my life now.

So sometime around today my subscription to Final Fantasy XIV expires and I’m not renewing it. This is the 2nd time this year I’ve subscribed and basically not played. It’s time to learn my lesson.

Now let me be upfront. I actually think FFXIV is a wonderful game. I love the world’s aesthetics. I love how the characters talk. I love walking through cities and watching the crowds of players interacting. I just don’t really enjoy actually PLAYING, and spending $15/month just to sight-see is a little steep for me these days.

I did have more success this month than I did early this year when I basically never logged in. This time out, I started a new character just to get re-accustomed to how things work, and interspersed those sessions with logging in my level 60 Dragoon and refamiliarizing myself with his skills, as well as setting up the UI (since this was a fresh install and I hadn’t backed up my settings to the cloud last time I played).

My Dragoon somehow had not gotten a lot of his skills so I started going through those quests. I was wandering around some bleak frozen area (Coerthas/Foundation area) where I rarely saw another player. I found the map kind of confusing; maybe the designers expected me to have a flying mount? But I would run back and forth trying to get from Point A to Point B, with the points being at different elevations. Then I’d find an NPC, talk to it, kill a couple of trivial monsters (5+ levels lower than me) then teleport back to ‘town’ and get the next bite of the quest. Solo combat was basically hit 1, hit 2, hit 3, hit 1, hit 4, hit 5, repeat. At least in theory, mobs didn’t usually last that long.

[I wanted to add, this dissatisfaction with tab-target, hot-key based combat isn’t limited to FFXIV. I’ve recently bounced off both LOTRO and SWOTOR for the same reason. The difference with those games, of course, is that it doesn’t cost me $15 to test the waters to see if this ennui has faded yet.]

It was all kind of bleak and depressing. I probably should have powered through it to try to get where combat was challenging. but then I thought “Well if I do that I’ll have to start doing PUG dungeons” which I really don’t want to do even if the community is apparently awesome.

I was kind of tempted to just buy a story skip (looks like I’d want Tales of Adventure: Stormblood for $25?) to get to the expansion where the Trust system kicks in. I just want all the things unlocked, and then I could just become a farmer or blacksmith or something, and just hang out in towns enjoying the vibe while doing whatever dungeons are required with my Trust Buddies. At least I think that’s how it works. I should check to be sure.

But again, money is a little tight these days and there are free-to-play MMOs I can jump into if I want to scratch that itch (though I don’t know of any game that has such a wonderful world as FFXIV).

So I’m kind of bummed, but I’m not sure if I’m bummed about the game or about the place where my head is at. But I have to stop paying a monthly fee to NOT play a game!

Comics are Confusing

I’ve been on a big superhero kick lately. @partpurple and I recently re-watched all the MCU movies. We watched WandaVision (loved it), Falcon and Winter Soldier (liked it), Loki (meh) and currently What If…? (loving it). We watched all seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. We watched and enjoyed all the Netflix Marvel shows.

And still I wanted more. But from where? Then it hit me. There’s a thing called a comic book. I should look into those!

Goofiness aside, I’ve never really been into comics. When I was a kid I’d read them now and then, but it was hard because 1) we didn’t have comic shops, we got our comics from the drugstore; 2) I was limited to visiting the drug store when my mom needed to go and she felt like dragging me along; 3) and I had no money so I had to beg her to buy me an issue or two.

End result was I’d read some narrow slice of a story, whatever was crammed into the pages of a single issue. What I remember most about comics from when I was a kid was Stan’s Soapbox (in Marvel titles, obviously). Stan Lee was the first adult I can remember who didn’t talk down to me. Of course today I realize he wasn’t writing Stan’s Soapbox for 8-year-old me but for a varied audience, most of whom were older. But I had no idea. To me Stan was writing directly to ME and he wasn’t patronizing me. Not that I knew what “patronizing” meant at the time. To this day I kind of think of Stan as a father-figure of sorts.

All of which leads me to the point. I subscribed to Marvel Unlimited [MU] to take another whack at getting into comics. And boy am I ever confused. (Full disclosure, title of the post should be Marvel Comics Are Confusing but I was going for the alliteration thing that Marvel seems so fond of.) I’m not complaining though, it’s really fun trying to sort this stuff out.

MU promises over 29,000 issues. So where to start? Well I like Spiderman, let’s look for Spiderman… I used to watch Spiderman cartoons when I was a kid, and I’ve seen the movies and played the games. Let’s just read Spiderman. OH MEM GEEE there are SO MANY Spiderman comics! Dozens. Maybe hundreds. Where do I start? It’s just overwhelming.

Page from West Coast Avengers as displayed on my phone. Source: Marvel Unlimited
OK OK let’s back slowly away from Spiderman. MU offers a “Get started” section for folks like me who are new to comics. First on the list was The Eternals which is currently running, I think. I read like 5 issues before it stopped which is why I think it is still running. The Eternals was not for me. It was just too high concept. Earth is a machine and the comic is narrated by it, Eternals hangouts are, y’know, hidden between 3 molecules of a day old pastry or something. No offense to folks who love this shit but I want something closer to street level here.

Next was Wanda and Vision. Ok here’re a couple of characters I enjoy. These books are from the mid-1980s. I read issue 1, it’s OK. Read issue 2 and then I see in the footnotes that the story they’re telling concludes in something called West Coast Avengers, a different series. So I go looking for that, where I find Hawkeye (who I know from the movies) and Bobbie Hunter/Mockingbird (who I know from Agents of Shield) and they’re married. Whaaat? And of course the character designs are very different. But OK let’s roll with that. So now I’m sorta juggling two books.

And they’re enjoyable enough, but my vague feelings of OCD really wants to find a character, read their original origin story and follow them through the decades to the here and now. I feel like there is this incredibly complex web of character storylines and I’m just skimming the surface. So far everything I’ve sampled (more than I’ve listed) leaves me feeling like I need to back up a little and figure out what came before to set up what I’m reading.

I’ll figure it out, eventually. I mean I’m digging it. Digging it enough that I went ahead and signed up for an annual subscription. But I’m not a very patient person and when I get into a new interest I want to be an expert as soon as possible. And as nutty as it sounds I kind of wish I could sort the books by publish date and start back in 1963 or whenever the earliest books on the service are.

In terms of the mechanics of reading, I’ve mostly been doing it on my iPad using the ‘smart panel’ system that zooms in on each panel/section of a page as you read. It works pretty well though at times I need to toggle it off and on. I have it set to show the whole page, then as I tap it advances panel by panel, then shows the whole page again to reinforce context, then on to the next page.

I have the app on my phone too (shown above, right side of the page) which is OK but it’s a little small for my tired eyes (that image is larger that actual size on my Pixel 3). Smart Panel works there too but not quite as well since panels vary in size and shape. Some fit fine with the phone held in portrait mode, others work better with the phone in landscape mode. I keep turning the phone back and forth. It works in a pinch but for me the tablet version is far superior. Progress does sync between the two, which is nice.

Anyway, if anyone wants to suggest a specific series title that they enjoy, please do so! I need help!